Who was Mabel Hawley?

What did people do before search engines? I was alive then, but am too young to remember.

Last week, a search for Ella Renville of Sisseton, South Dakota hit on a post I made several weeks ago, “Cincapi” Means “Children.”

Several years ago, Vicki (who typed the Ella Renville search) had picked up an autograph album at a rummage sale just because she found the little book beautiful. This Floral Album belonged to Mabel (or May, or May Belle) Hawley of Poysippi, Wisconsin, who was born around 1864. As a Junior at the Preparatory Academy at Ripon College in Ripon, Wisconsin, 27 miles south of Poysippi, Mabel asked Ella Renville to sign her album.

“Miss Hawley, That you may have a truly happy life is the wish of your friend, Ella Renville, Sisseton Agency, Dakota January 31, 1880.”

When she wrote these words, Ella likely was already battling tuberculosis. Ella’s death on Valentines Day, 1882, prompted her parents, John and Mary Butler Renville, to erect a headstone in the cemetery at Sisseton remembering their cincapi, their children: Ella and her baby sister, Mary, who died at birth.

The gift of a photo of Ella’s tombstone revealed another gift: first-time knowledge of her baby sister. That post paved the way for a gift from Vicki: Ella’s holograph (the first I’ve seen) in Mabel Hawley’s album.

But Mabel Hawley herself is still a mystery. Who was she? Vicki is working on that question. You see, Mabel’s album contains more than inscriptions from her school chums. A few pages beyond Ella’s wish for a truly happy life is this ledger-style pictograph:

Captioned in a feminine hand: “Drawn by Chief White Bull May 25/85.” 

Sitting Bull’s nephew, Tatanka Ska, or White Bull, is the Lakota warrior some say killed George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876. A name coincidence? Maybe. Or maybe not. Sitting Bull’s nephew is also renown for his ledger art, including this image from the White Bull Manuscript in the archives of the University of North Dakota:

Mabel Hawley married Daniel Tresler in 1884 and may have been living in Stanton, North Dakota, at the time she collected the drawing attributed to White Bull, and on the following page, an undated inscription from an Arikara man from the Fort Berthold Reservation named Bears Teeth.

Bears Teeth’s home at Fort Berthold is across Lake Audubon from Stanton. White Bull’s home at Standing Rock is about 180 miles south of Fort Berthold. Did Mabel Hawley Tressler visit Standing Rock? Did White Bull visit Fort Berthold?

It seems likely Mabel collected Ella’s autograph at Ripon, Wisconsin; both women were enrolled there and the roads home to Sisseton were sometimes impassable in January.

But I wonder why Mabel collected Ella’s autograph. Mabel was four years younger than Ella and attended Ripon’s Preparatory Academy, while Ella attended the College.

Researching A Thrilling Narrative, I discovered little about Ella’s life in Ripon (where she boarded while attending school) but found this glimpse in the February, 1878 edition of Iapi Oaye:

“In the last week of the old year Helen [Aungie] and Ella were  invited to Waupun to attend a missionary concert, given by a class of girls for the benefit of a colored boy, Peter Sharp by name, who is at Fisk University. “They had recitations in several languages, (Ella says) and sent for us to say something in Dakota. Helen repeated the ‘Twenty Third Psalm,’ and I, ‘The Ninety and Nine.’ We dreamed dreams that night in which Sitting Bull and Peter Sharp were slightly mixed.” Iape Oaye, February 1878.

First, the implication for Ella: she did not keep her Dakota heritage in the closet. In fact, when called upon, she proudly spoke Dakota in public. Did Mabel collect Ella’s autograph because Ella was a friend, or because Mabel viewed Ella as a Native American novelty? (Ella signed her name, “your friend,” but addressed the inscription to “Miss Hawley” even though other classmates inscribed their pages to “Mabel” and “May Belle.”)

Second, the implication for Mabel Hawley: In the Iapi Oaye article, Ella mentioned Sitting Bull, White Bull’s uncle. In 1885, when Mabel collected the pictograph said to be White Bull’s, I think Sitting Bull was portraying himself in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show. Did White Bull accompany his uncle on the show circuit? Did Mabel perhaps secure the drawing for her album when she visited a Wild West Show??

Vicki plans to take the drawing to the University of North Dakota for authentication against known White Bull pictographs.


photo credits: Hawley Album and the University of North Dakota Discovery Spring 2010.

Thank you, Vicki, for sharing Mabel’s album and story! Next time you go to a rummage sale, I want to go with :).

9/19/12 edited to correct Sitting Bull’s home reservation

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2 Responses to Who was Mabel Hawley?

  1. vicki says:

    Great post! Hopefully we’ll get more info from somebody! Thank you!

  2. Bobbie Erdmann says:

    Carrie, could you please email me direct. I have some more news for you. Also I noticed mention of Solon J. Buck in this blog. Did you know that Mr. Buck was born and raised in Berlin and graduated from Berlin High School in 1900? Another intertwining thread in our history.

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